I want to create more gardens in my yard. It's not a huge yard and, as I look at the survey of my property, I realize that the house and its cement empire of driveway, sidewalk, porch, and carports, take up about half of the mere 0.15 acres that I own. So that means I have, very roughly, about 0.075 acres of yard to cultivate, most of which is shaded, on a slope, or right next to the house.
The backyard is a generous rectangle of almost-flat yard, but it is largely shaded by a white oak tree, four cedar elms, and a hackberry. Luckily, the backyard is on the west side of the house, where the shade is desperately needed on summer afternoons. This summer I removed a Japanese privet, an ugly, non-native, invasive shrub, from the NW corner of the backyard to create space for compost bins. As I cleared the tangle of overgrowth and bindweed that had grown over the privet, I realized that corner of the backyard was sunny for part of the day and decided to create a vegetable garden space there. Over the next year, as I plant broccoli and greens and then, next spring, if the greens were successful, summer vegetables, I will really find out if that corner gets enough light.
Narrow strips of yard, four feet to ten feet wide, run along the sides of the house. The north side is shady, rocky, and needs little weeding, a strong indication that plants would not do well there. The south side is sunny and hot, capable of supporting huge, multi-stemmed weedy shrubs. I created a tiny but productive vegetable garden in the nook beside the AC unit last summer, which was where my peppers and basil grew this summer. I would also like to grow a row of tomato plants along the south wall, but that space has been challenging to prepare. I cut down the shrubs, and weeded and mulched, but stumps, and huge root systems, of the monster shrubs remain. And, given that the ground slopes both away from the house and towards the backyard, I will need to build walls to hold the soil before I plant.
So that leaves the front yard. East facing and sunny all day, the front yard should be a perfect gardening space. Except that it's in the front. A couple days ago I made a to-scale drawing of the front yard to get a better sense of the available space. I dug through a huge envelope of "house purchase documents" that I had saved in the bottom of a drawer to find the survey that came with the title to the house. Using the survey, I learned the dimensions of my plot of land (50' x 130') and was able to locate the house within that plot. But I couldn't get any more specifics for my map, like how many feet were between the driveway and the sidewalk or how far it was from the front porch to the cement retaining wall, without measuring it.
Which involves going into the front yard with a tape measure and clipboard. Which is the biggest reason why I haven't yet made gardens in the front. It's so exposed. All the world, from every car entering or leaving the street to all the nearby neighbors, can easily see what I am doing in the front yard. And, while they probably don't care, given that I live in an eclectic, laid-back, east-side neighborhood, I am hugely intimidated by starting a project that would be so public. The idea of having my process, from the roughest stages of uncertainly through the messiness of execution, on display for the neighborhood goes against the grain of my personality. Whether I'm writing a story or painting a room or just cooking dinner, I like to finish a project and then say, Look what I did.
Which is why I am writing a blog yet have told no one about it.
So gardening in the front yard is about more than just planting and watering. It means committing to plants and beds that need maintenance rather than a lawn of weeds that only has to be mowed after it rains. It means being willing to be messy, in the form of layout and digging and mulch, in public. But it also means choosing the yard that I want over the neat, boring yard that I think I should have. And it's hard to argue with that.